What does Matthew 23:9 mean?Jesus has paused from exposing and condemning the Pharisees and scribes to command His disciples to do one thing differently in the future. He has said that these official "teachers" of Israel love the title of "rabbi." It means they have achieved a level of status in Judaism that comes with power over others. It feeds exactly what drives them: their own thirst for recognition and honor. In contrast, Jesus has told the disciples not to call anyone "rabbi." For one thing, they have only one teacher: Jesus Himself. For another, they are all brothers. He does not want them taking positions of status and authority above each other.
In addition, Christ tells His disciples not to address anyone as "father" on earth. This is because they have a Father in heaven, meaning God, Jesus' own Father. Jesus does not mean no one may refer to a parent as "father." He is specifically addressing the practice of referring to religious leaders and mentors as "father" in any formal or official sense. What's forbidden is an attempt to give one of Jesus' followers a spiritual status above that of others.
It's suggested that great teachers or rabbis of the past, along with the patriarchs of Israel, were sometimes called "the fathers" during Jesus' era. Jesus wants that name—and more importantly, that reverent attitude—to be reserved for God alone.
This does not forbid anyone from occupying positions of authority in the church. In fact, Jesus has given and will continue to give great authority to His disciples, who will become known as the apostles. The danger being condemned is in using titles as the Pharisees used them: to draw praise and honor to themselves and to buttress their own authority. Jesus emphasized to His disciples repeatedly that, in His kingdom, leadership always takes the form of servanthood (John 13:12–16; Matthew 23:11).